I believe there are two types of people when it comes to Christmas; those who love family gatherings and those who would rather have their eyeballs scratched out by a ware-wolf. Well, that could be an exaggeration; however, it is often the case that family represents much of what is good, and not so good, about the holidays. In a marriage, this is an issue you must be intentional to deal with, or the people you love to spend the holidays with will become the people your spouse hates to spend the holidays with. I cannot tell you how many couples I have met with who are at their wits end with one another because of extended family members, AKA the in-laws! This problem is only accentuated during the holiday season.
You know the routine. You make plans in an effort to make everyone happy. You try to schedule just enough time for everyone to see the kids or share a meal together or have you over to stay at THEIR house. The only problem is - the most miserable people end up being you and your spouse! Here are a few tips to keep your holiday season a little less naughty and a little more nice.
1. Decide on a plan together.
Everyone has expectations on how holidays should work. The key is being able to share those expectations and validate those of your spouse. If you are already in agreement, carry on. If not, take time to compromise until you find a plan you can both believe in. When my wife and I were first married, I was accustomed to what I called the Christmas tour. I'd always make two or three stops between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to see extended family. This was normal for me because I grew up with lots of family in town and that's just what we did. My wife, on the other hand, was used to spending all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with her immediate family. Normal for her was something much slower paced. Our compromise was in favor of her preference. This was not a matter of her winning and me losing, I actually prefer the slower paced holiday schedule now. Whatever you do, make sure it's a plan you both agree with and support.
2. Deliver your plan early.
One of the mistakes we make with extended family is poor communication or lack of communication. Remember, everyone has expectations of how the holidays should work. Your parents and in-laws are no different. Be respectful of their expectations. This does not mean you must attempt to meet their expectations. Good communication solves most relationship problems. A good practice is to make your plan together, and deliver it early. Let your parents or in-laws know what you have decided. If you are open to negotiation (we usually are not, by the way), give them time to think about things and get back with you. We try to communicate our plans early enough that we are ahead of any other planning our families may try to do. This way our families can plan around our decisions and not feel like we are the cause of a major disruption.
3. Deny the guilt trip.
It is possible that your plan will ruffle the feathers of someone in your family, and they respond by laying the gift of a serious guilt trip on you. It is very important that you do not allow this kind of behavior to manipulate your plans. It is important, especially early in a marriage, to create boundaries on decision-making. Your parents or other family members may feel entitled to an opinion in your planning; however, it is your responsibility to manage your family's values and needs. If you choose to allow outside input, be sure your spouse is in agreement with that decision. If not, decide on a plan together, deliver your plan early, and stand by your plan by denying the guilt trip. This may cause some tension at Christmas dinner, but it is vital in establishing unity in your marriage and ultimately gaining the respect of your respective families toward your marriage. If family members are unreasonable and unwilling to respect your decisions, you may have to create more distance with those relationships.
Amanda and I are grateful to have a wonderful relationship with our parents. Our parents both live about 15 minutes away from us. We have tried to apply these principles the majority of our married life and are blessed because of it. I hope this will help you and your family have a Merry Christmas this year and years to come!